Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

A Delray Valentine

We are less than a month out from the Delray Beach Municipal Election and the mud is flying. (Mostly, in one direction but I digress).

If you didn’t know better and you lived exclusively on Facebook, you’d think we were living in war torn Somalia. But you read this blog so you do know better.

That said, we think Delray deserves a little love this Valentine’s Day.

So here’s a list of things to appreciate about Delray Beach.

The Arts Garage—where else in South Florida can you count on seeing world class live music on a regular basis in an intimate venue in a convenient location? This gem of a place regularly features amazing musicians and you can even bring your own wine. We saw Grammy nominated Negroni’s Trio last week and left there smiling from ear to ear. This weekend, we will check out Max Weinberg’s Jukebox and revel in the company of a rock and roll hall of famer, E Street Band mainstay and a guy who might have the best backbeat in the business. Only in Delray.

 

The Arts Warehouse—is opening and she’s a beauty, with affordable studios, community space and local artists milling about. A great vision—courtesy of our beleaguered but invaluable CRA. P.S. You can’t spell Delray Beach without the C, the R and the A.

 

Seagate Hotel—on a Thursday night. Check it out. It’s a scene. Music, drinks, dancing and some really interesting outfits. And to think, this was controversial when it was first proposed.

 

Beer Trade Company—if you like craft beers and ciders, you have to check out Beer Trade on Fourth Avenue. A great locals scene, friendly staff, a serve yourself system which is simple and risotto balls that probably ought to be illegal because they are that good.

 

Harvest Restaurant—we’ve lived here so long we can remember when there was no place to dine, even on Atlantic Avenue. Now we are seeing the foodie scene migrate to other parts of the city and that is good news. Harvest serves healthy food, is beautifully designed, has a great indoor /outdoor bar and even has a fireplace for when the temperatures dip into the 70s. While you are off the beaten path make sure to check out Sushi Thai Fusion, the new Sardinia in the same South Federal Plaza and in a shameless plug 5th Avenue Grill and La Cigale. Also don’t forget wine dinners at Caffe Luna Rosa—a Delray staple. (See if you can find my picture on the wall and if you do, try not to laugh).

But the point is you don’t have to be on the avenue anymore to enjoy good food.

 

The Delray Open—we love going to the Delray Open, where you can see some of the best tennis players on the planet under the stars and around the block from where you live. What small city can make that claim? The event starts this week with a senior event featuring Hall of Famer John McEnroe who seems to love Delray too.

 

Lake Ida Park—winter afternoons in Lake Ida Park provides a perfect setting for a long walk with your dog or just a lawn chair and a good book.

 

The Downtowner—they are just fun to watch and to see the creativity of the local advertisers.

DDA Videos—simply amazing. Check them out and see how good the town looks.

 

Delray Historical Society—we plan to check out the new exhibit this week. It’s nice to see the Cason Cottage come to life.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

 

 

 

 

A North Star Is Essential

As a close observer–and one time participant in city government– the biggest lesson I have learned is that cities get in trouble when they don’t have a ‘North Star’ to chase.

A North Star is another term for vision—an overarching set of goals that is compelling enough to include and excite just about everyone.

The vision should be citizen -driven, i.e. it must originate from a cross section of people in your city and it must be big enough to inspire as many stakeholders as possible.

The North Star must appeal to young and old, black and white, retiree and young professional.

Again, it can’t come from on high (elected officials or senior staff) it must come from the grass roots.

But it’s up to the grass tops (elected officials and senior staff) to deliver results. Elected leaders can lead the effort, they just can’t dominate it. If it’s going to last, it can’t be about them. It has to be about the community.

Having a compelling vision is your best economic development incentive and the best marketing possible for your city. If you sell the vision and that vision makes sense, it will attract investment, draw residents to your city and spark civic involvement.

How do I know this?
Because I saw it happen in Delray Beach.

There are several Delray examples of North Stars and if we value history and we should, now is a good time to take a look back so that we can find a way forward past division, dysfunction and inertia.

The Mayor’s 1984 Atlantic Avenue Task Force focused Delray on the potential of its historic downtown and on the threat of a DOT plan to convert the avenue into a high speed hurricane evacuation route.

The Mayor and Commission at the time wisely knew that a high speed road would ruin any chance of redeveloping the avenue into a pedestrian friendly warm and inviting place.  As a result, it was a hugely valuable effort—that warded off the state’s plans and gave our downtown a chance to succeed.

But, it was Visions 2000 that would prove transformational.

A cross section of citizens came together in the late 1980s to envision a better future for all of Delray Beach.

At roughly the same time, a citizen driven movement—launched by a home builder/developer but quickly joined by a large coalition of the willing—focused the city on the need to upgrade local schools.  The North Star spoke to the need and the potential: Delray schools needed help if we were ever going to attract families and businesses and if we worked together and partnered with the School Board we could make things happen.

“Sharing for Excellence”—spearheaded by Tom Fleming but embraced by citizens and the city’s leadership–gave us magnet programs such as the Montessori at Spady, a new Carver Middle School and a range of other upgrades. It positioned Delray as an active participant in local schools and we became the first city to hire an Education Coordinator and form an Education Advisory Board. I still remember a fateful lunch at the old Annex in Pineapple Grove when Janet Meeks, then a planner, presented her ideas to be our first ever Education Coordinator. We made the move and Janet has delivered remarkable results, including a third All America City thanks to the success of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading that she has led.

We had the confidence to experiment because of Sharing for Excellence’s vison and the momentum and culture it created.

The spirit of the times and the excitement of the possibilities spurred the Chamber of Commerce to raise money for schools through an Education Foundation and created inspiration for building a new high school with career academies, including a Criminal Justice Academy staffed by local police officers. And the list goes on; including a vocational charter school created by our two employees of our Police Department (first ever in the state to do so I believe) and programs such as Eagle’s Nest, in which students in Atlantic’s High School Construction Career Academy built affordable homes on lots donated by the city and financed by the CRA. That’s cool stuff. And it changes lives—students found careers and productive lives as a result of these programs.

Creating a citizen driven North Star provides a clarion call for involvement and also inspires people to get off the sidelines and get involved in the community.

Visions 2000 had an even more profound impact leading to the Decade of Excellence bond—a huge investment that taxpayers overwhelmingly approved. Imagine that: taxpayers voting to go into debt and raise their taxes so that they can improve their city. Those types of votes go down in flames if they are driven by elected leaders and staff without public involvement and buy-in.

While the investment was huge–$21.5 million for infrastructure and beautification, the equivalent of $42.7 million in today’s dollars—the city successfully implemented the list of projects giving citizens’ confidence in their local government’s ability to deliver. That’s invaluable, because it allowed future commission’s to make other big bets and it’s the big bets that distinguished Delray as a great place to live, work, play and invest.

The successful implementation of the Decade of Excellence bond allowed a commission that I served on to move forward with an ambitious Downtown Master Plan, Cultural Plan, Southwest Plan, Congress Avenue Plan etc. Every one of those efforts included and were driven by grassroots involvement and passion, especially the Downtown Master Plan and Southwest Plan—the grassroots telling the grasstops what to do.

As a policymaker, it’s wonderful to have a North Star—a vision plan that you can follow.

First, it helps you prioritize spending/investment and it helps you make hard decisions. For example, when faced with a tough vote— on say a development project —it helps if you can tie the decision to the vision. It also helps you say no to things that just don’t fit.

Elected officials get in trouble when they fly without a net—and often times you see them lean on personal preferences, their own pet peeves, personal agendas etc. in the absence of an agreed upon vision. You also see them begin to squabble, because it’s hard to be a “team” if you don’t have a playbook. Commission tension leads to dysfunction, inefficiencies, wasteful spending and a dispirited staff. When scared, bureaucracies freeze. It’s safer to do nothing than to make a decision that may upset a faction on the commission. This type of culture is not a recipe for progress or problem solving.

The worst officials use their positions to exert retribution—which leads to all sorts of issues including a form of ‘pay to play’ in which individuals and business owners feel they have to spread money around at election time or risk seeing their projects killed as payback for failing to pony up. Cities without an adopted vision or North Star create vacuums that are often filled by political bosses who lurk in the shadows to reward friends and punish enemies. Serious investors shun these types of cities because the risk is just too large and the price of playing ball is too high—both financially and ethically.

 

Still, even if you are in service to a vision there is ample room for personal judgment and discretion if you are a mayor or council member. And it doesn’t mean you can’t pursue some of your own ideas if you are talented enough to convince your colleagues and lead the public to a new understanding on issues. That’s called leadership.

It’s also important to note that North Stars and vision plans –even when created by lots of people –are not immune to political opposition.

The Downtown Master Plan is a case in point. We had hundreds of participants involved in the plan from all parts of the city but when it came time to vote on projects that supported the plan, we still had vocal opposition, typically from people who didn’t bother to show up at the variety of charrettes, workshops and presentations held throughout the community.

That’s OK. But it’s also a test of leadership.

Do you abandon the plan at the first sign of opposition?
Or do you use the occasion as a “teachable moment” to defend the plan, explain why it works and vote accordingly?
Delray was known as the city that stuck to its plans and didn’t let them gather dust on some shelf in the back corner of the Planning Department.

That’s why we came from where we were in the 80s—blighted and desolate—to where we are today.

I know that modern day Delray is not everyone’s idea of a good place. But what we see is largely what was planned (by citizens and implemented by staff and elected officials over a long period of time).

Sure not everything turned out the way we thought it would—and that is inevitable too. Economic conditions, changing trends, private property rights and the free market play a major role too. For example, I don’t think anyone anticipated rents on the avenue that in some cases exceed $100 per square foot or commercial properties selling for over $1,300 a foot. In the 80s, we had a high vacancy rate and rents were $6-$8 a foot.

Still, by and large, we envisioned, planned and worked to create a vibrant small city—and we got one.

I happen to love it. So do many, many others.

But all cities are works in progress and visions and North Stars need to be renewed.

My friends Chris Brown and Kim Briesemeister wrote a book about just that called “Reinventing Your City”. Their theory is that cities have to be reinvented every 20-25 years.

If you reinvent and find a North Star to strive for, you’ll thrive. If you fail to do so, you’ll drift…dangerously I venture to say.

We are overdo. We need a North Star, a unifying vision that can bring a divided community together.

We also need citizens to participate and leadership to defend the people’s vision. That’s the formula for a happy and successful community. Easy to articulate, hard to attain. But it has been done and we can do it again.

Restoring The Trust

The Sun-Sentinel ran an interesting editorial last week on the lack of affordable housing in Florida.

Affordable housing is an interesting and sometimes loaded term.

But the Sentinel offered a practical definition: if you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing (rent or mortgage) your home is not affordable.

The editorial went on to lament that the state legislature is raiding a fund designed to create more affordable housing to pay for other things including pet projects, staff salaries and tax cuts.

The William Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund has about $322 million socked away for its intended purpose. But Gov. Scott’s 2018-19 budget plan recommends taking $154 million out of the fund for other state expenses. Mind you, these are good times. Imagine what could happen if/when the state falls into a recession.

Ultimately, Scott’s budget is a proposal. It’s now time for the State Legislature to weigh in.

It has been more than a decade since I traversed the hallways of Tallahassee meeting with State Senators and State Representatives and sometimes state department heads. Many of our local elected officials are in Tallahassee this week making the rounds.

Local mayors and city commissioners make the always difficult trek to Tallahassee (conveniently located in a place that’s a long drive for many Floridians with expensive and often ridiculous plane routes that included a stop in Atlanta). I used to wonder if the powers that be wanted to be remotely located so as to avoid the public they were trying to serve. But that’s a cynical view— I’m sure there are plenty of dedicated public servants doing their best to serve the Sunshine State. The proof– as they say– will be determined by the results they produce at the end of the legislative session.

While some of the specific issues we went to lobby for have faded from memory (an ability to design our own stretch of A1A, canker, help with some of our parks, reclaimed water etc. are some issues I remember) two themes seemed to be perennials.

  • Home rule—which is an elegant way of saying: please leave local government alone because we believe that the government closest to the people best serve our communities. Please no unfunded mandates and stop choking off our revenues so you can look good by cutting taxes. Cities and counties have needs, obligations and aspirations that have to be funded—and a partnership with the state would be ideal. And if we can’t partner…well then… don’t hurt us.
  • The Sadowski Fund—Don’t raid it, so you can look good; use it for its intended purpose.

 

The fund was established in 1992 and uses doc stamp taxes (generated through real estate documents such as titles) to help create affordable housing.

It seemed to work fairly well for about a decade, but than in 2003, the legislature decided to make it a piggy bank to pay for its own budget. Those raids increased during the historic recession that hit Florida a little earlier than most states.

It seems that the practice has become a habit, even during boom times.

Last year, the doc stamp tax generated over $290 million for the affordable housing trust fund. But the legislature grabbed $130 million of those funds to help balance the budget.

For the past 14 years—and if the Governor has his way 15 years—that raid has occurred—even as the legislature has passed tax cut after cut.

While nobody loves paying taxes—they are necessary if we are to have a functioning government. And while tax cuts feel good—the reality is they are often a bait and switch with the onus being placed on local governments to pick up the slack.

Local governments have nobody below them to stick with the bill—other than taxpayers.

That said, we all know there is colossal waste in government operations—at every level federal, state, county and city.

So it is impossible and disingenuous to argue that every dollar raised is needed or spent wisely. It isn’t.

But…

That doesn’t mean that a trust fund set up to provide affordable housing should be raided for other purposes. And it doesn’t mean that the issue/problem doesn’t exist because it does.

Florida has an affordable housing challenge/crisis.

Some might say—“well just wait for the next recession and poof the problem goes away”—but it’s not that simple.

People and families of all ages are having a hard time getting traction in Florida and especially in our communities Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

While long time homeowners are thrilled with the price appreciation they have experienced (often a home is our most significant asset) we must be cognizant that others would like to access our cities because of the quality of life/opportunities we offer.

An “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality is not only selfish, it’s short-sighted.

To maintain our quality of life and to be economically sustainable—we need to provide housing options that are attainable for working people and families.

Companies will not be able to locate or grow here if their workers cannot find housing that they can afford. And our children will not be able to live here either.

Economic sustainability is a complicated equation that also requires good schools, excellent health care, recreational options, culture, open space, job opportunities, safe streets, mobility, a clean environment and reasonable taxation.

P.S. that list goes on.

All the more reason why we need quality elected officials and talented staff at all levels of government who see the big picture, know how to create sustainable economies and craft policies that aren’t just politically expedient but also address long term needs.

Raiding the Sadowski fund so you can send out a mail piece that says you cut taxes misses the mark on a slew of levels. It puts off the need to create efficiencies in the state’s operations or grow revenue in other ways and it leaves families struggling to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Call your legislator and tell them to stop raiding the trust and start solving the problem.

As for local governments, they play a role too.

Nimbyism—(not in my backyard) that prevents the creation of housing opportunities restrains supply.  And if you took an economics course you know what happens next—prices rise.

We are certainly not advocating out of control growth (or unsustainable traffic choking sprawl either) but we are advocating smart growth and new urbanism. Google “Strong Towns” or the Congress for New Urbanism—there are solutions that offer compelling math for taxpayers that back up these philosophies.

 

 

Catching Up On Ideas

Five years ago, we published a blog post outlining 25 ideas for Delray.

We stumbled upon the post this week and thought we’d take a look to see whether any of these ideas came to life.

25 Ideas …

1.Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Progress: Delray has attracted a fair amount of interesting entrepreneurs including The Downtowner, Delivery Dudes, House of Perna and Rooster among others. There also several social entrepreneurial efforts including WiseTribe, Space of Mind, One Million Cups, Creative Mornings Palm Beach (not Delray based per se, but active in the city).

2.To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Progress:  Not yet. There are a few co-working efforts—the Kitchn etc., but a true incubator has yet to be established. Perhaps, overlooking the Old School Square Park? Great opportunity.

3.Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Progress: Not yet.

4.Help existing businesses grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Progress: Not yet.

5.Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms. Revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Progress: Not on the drawing board.

6.Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Progress: Work has been done to forge a vision for the park, but not yet accomplished. Bond issue establishing the park was passed almost 13 years ago. Lots of discussion around what to fund.

7.At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Progress: A new tree, no pop-ups.

8.Creatively partner with the Elev 8 Sports Institute and bring “fantasy camps” to Delray. With the school’s extensive MLB contacts, tourists would come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Progress: Didn’t happen.

9.Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Progress: Several entrepreneurs interested in making it happen.

10.Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Progress: In 2016, Chamber ran a civics academy. It was well attended. But a follow-up has not yet occurred.

11.Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Progress: Not on the radar.

12.Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Progress: WARC working on a transformation plan, efforts to rebrand the area as The Set underway.

13.Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and… Progress: Nope.

14.Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local papers to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Progress: Downtown Marketing Cooperative, Chamber and Downtown Development Authority do a great job.

15.Tie the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Progress: Five years later, we just attended the grand opening of the long-awaited warehouse. Better late than never, and it’s fabulous.

16.Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Progress: Prep and Sports’ founder T.J. Jackson was hired to coach Atlantic High. He took them to the state finals this year.

17.Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Progress: Economic development will be a part of the comp plan. Yay!

18.Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible:  economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Progress: An alliance has been discussed around government affairs on regional issues with area chambers.

19.Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Progress: Years after handing in a report, the Task Force plan has been largely shelved by the commission. Vice Mayor Chard has kept the flame burning with meetings among property owners and investors. Kaufman Lynn located to Congress, transforming a derelict property into a great new headquarters. Investor interest remains high on the corridor. The city could help by implementing the plan and amending the LDR’s as promised.

20.Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

21.Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Progress: Lynn University has partnered with the Delray chamber. Stay tuned.

22.Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

23.Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Progress: Hasn’t happened. The city of Tallahassee and the Florida League of Cities has had success with this approach.

24.Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Progress: Small Business Saturday has become a big deal in recent years.

25.Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Progress: Hasn’t happened yet.

A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
 
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

Rankings, Ratings & Quality of Life

Leawood, Kansas seems like a great place but…

The personal-finance website WalletHub has released its report on 2017’s Best Small Cities in America.

It’s interesting and provocative.

Boca Raton scored high on most measurements, but the analysis revealed some areas of concern. And Delray Beach—despite being the great city we know it to be—has some work to do if you believe the indicators.

First the highlights:

WalletHub’s analysts compared more than 1,200 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 across 33 key indicators of livability. They range from housing costs to school-system quality to restaurants per capita.

 

Top 20 Small Cities in America    

  1. Princeton, NJ   11. Newton, MA
  2. Lexington, MA   12. Melrose, MA
  3. Leawood, KS   13. Brookfield, WI
  4. Milton, MA   14. Sammamish, WA
  5. Brentwood, TN   15. Kirkland, WA

6 .Los Altos, CA   16. Saratoga, CA

  1. Carmel, IN   17. Dublin, OH
  2. Needham, MA   18. Palo Alto, CA
  3. Holly Springs, NC   19. Westfield, NJ
  4. Littleton, CO   20. Fishers, IN

 

Best vs. Worst

  • The Villages, Florida, has the highest homeownership rate, 96.25 percent, which is 108.1 times higher than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the lowest at 0.89 percent.

 

  • Plainfield, Illinois, has the lowest share of the population living below poverty level, 1.90 percent, which is 27.5 times lower than in Statesboro, Georgia, the city with the highest at 52.3 percent.

 

  • Fort Hood, Texas, has the shortest average commute time, 11.2 minutes, which is 3.9 times shorter than in Lake Elsinore, California, the city with the longest at 43.6 minutes.

 

  • East Lansing, Michigan, has the fewest average hours worked per week, 28.2, which is 1.7 times fewer than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the most at 49.1.

I would suspect that many of us who live in Delray and Boca wouldn’t trade living here for anywhere else—especially now that the good weather has kicked in. I don’t think there are too many people who would look at the rankings and sell their home in Lake Ida or Woodfield Country Club for a home in number 3 ranked Leawood, Kansas either. (No offense to Leawood, we’re sure it’s wonderful).

So where do we rank?

Delray ranked in the 60th percentile—the top cities were in the 99th percentile. Boca ranked in the 98th percentile.

Delray’s overall score of 57.62, trailed Boca which scored a 66.01. Number one ranked Princeton scored a 73.36.

Delray ranked 870th on affordability—not a surprise considering the run-up in home prices and the lack of new product on the market. Boca ranked 733rd on affordability.

Delray’s economic health ranked 436th with Boca coming in at 224—hard to imagine that there are that many cities healthier than Boca which seems to rake in companies and jobs by the truckloads. On the education and health measurement Delray ranked 728 and Boca 520.

Delray scored an impressive number 51 on the all-important quality of life ranking with Boca an even more impressive number 14. Interestingly, my guess is that residents of each city wouldn’t trade places—both cities are appealing for different reasons. Sarasota ranked number one in quality of life—and if you’ve visited lately you’ll see why.

On safety, Delray scored number 924 and Boca 543.

Lots to chew on certainly.

Rankings, awards, contests etc., are fun to debate, but in the end they are just numbers and things. It’s hard to measure a community’s spirit, aspirations, closeness, friendliness or ambience.

Still, they can be used to benchmark so that cities can strive to do better. Some cities—like Santa Monica—try to measure happiness. Delray used to survey residents on a range of issues and topics and policymakers at the time found the findings interesting and helpful. Cities can be noisy places—especially with the advent of social media—and sometimes (often) the squeaky wheels don’t represent the majority opinion on a given issue.

As for the Wallet Hub findings—I think we should take another survey in January and see if Boca /Delray would score somewhat higher than Princeton, N.J. as the place to be.

 

Old School Square Makes Us A Village

The anchor is a beacon.

We went to a great party Sunday afternoon to celebrate a generous donation to Old School Square.

And we were reminded about how art builds community.

Margaret and Robert Blume stepped up to make the transformation of the Cornell Museum possible.
When the newly renovated museum re-opens in November, we predict that visitors to the space will be amazed.

As Old School Square CEO Rob Steele puts it: the museum will become an important community asset for Delray Beach with profound and enduring benefits.
That’s exactly what it should be. Community museums and art centers are meant to be treasured assets valued by residents, tourists and artists.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of donors like the Blume’s, dedicated staff (and Old School Square has a terrific staff), a committed board, volunteers and a supportive city.
It really does take a village.

The Blume’s were taken by Old School Square’s story and it’s importance to the community and stepped up as a result.
Let’s face it, when it comes to philanthropic dollars there is enormous competition. You have to have a compelling mission and an ability to deliver in order to stand a chance with so many worthy causes to choose from.

Those of us who are board members and fans of Old School Square are hopeful that others will be inspired to step up and help Old School Square in its important mission. Rob and his dedicated team have created naming rights and other opportunities for philanthropy and involvement.

Here’s hoping that many seize the opportunity to shape the future. Old School Square is a special place and plays a central role in our community.

I’m reading a great book by musician Dar Williams called “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” which is devoted to the observations of an artist who has spent a life on the road.
Ms. Williams is a self taught urban anthropologist and her eyes have been trained to see what works in towns she visits that thrive.
In her book, she notes a concept she calls “positive proximity” —or the creation of spaces where people can gather, meet, talk, experience music, art and community.
Sound familiar?

That was the genius of Frances Bourque’s idea when she looked at a dilapidated old school sitting on the very best real estate in town.
She saw a place that could be the focal point of our city. A place that could build community.

Over the years, Old School Square has delivered.

It’s where we practiced for our All America City awards, where we gathered to light the Christmas tree and Menorah, where we thanked volunteers, where we held a vigil after 9/11 and where we met as neighbors to discuss race relations.
It’s also where we met to discuss our downtown master plan, where we have lit unity candles on MLK Day and where we attended weddings and other important personal celebrations.
In its classrooms, we have seen artists of all ages learn and explore their passions. On its stages, we have experienced magic.

Old School Square is our most important asset. It belongs to everyone. It honors our past, informs our present and speaks to our future.
And it needs our help. Now more than ever.

We need to complete our parks plan, reinvent for the future and make the most of the amphitheater.
If we fulfill its promise, we will remain a strong community. In  a world that’s increasingly polarized and growing more remote thanks to technology (and fear of one another) we risk losing “positive proximity.”
That’s a loss we may never recover from and will be sure to regret.
Old School Square was the key to Delray’s revitalization three decades ago. It’s even more important to our future.

We Have Some Work To Do

Most of America is deteriorating economically.

That’s the conclusion of a new study recently reported by Axios.com that has created a stir in cities and state capitals. It probably hasn’t made a dent in Washington, where they are too busy talking past each other and raking in big bucks for re-election to care.

Axios is on online news organization. They have some really good journalists and their coverage is usually pretty insightful. So what did Axios find?

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite ZIP Codes, but economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating.

What does that mean?  U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. Which means that your location better have a plan to keep their economies viable.

A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this week by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization.

Key findings:

New jobs are clustered in the economy’s best-off places, leaving one of every four new jobs for the bottom 60% of ZIP Codes.

Most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.

Half of adults living in distressed ZIP Codes are attempting to find gainful employment in the modern economy armed with only a high school education at best.

The map: The fastest growing Western cities (such as Gilbert, Ariz., and Plano, Texas) and “tech hubs” (Seattle, San Francisco, Austin) dominate the list of the most prosperous cities in the country. Cities that were once industrial powerhouses in the Midwest and Northeast, like Cleveland and Newark, are now more likely to be on the distressed end of the spectrum.

The cycle: Fewer new companies are forming than ever before, which disproportionately hurts distressed communities. The new businesses that do get started are often located in thriving communities where educated workers are. So talented people are forced to leave places with little economic opportunity — even if they have personal and family reasons to stay — to move to those where there is opportunity.

So how do we rank?

Economic Distress Indicators for: Palm Beach County, FL

Population: 1,378,810

% in Distressed Zip Codes: Palm Beach County 4.7%

% in Prosperous Zip Codes: Palm Beach County 35.1%

 

No High School Diploma: Palm Beach County 12.2% U.S. 13.3%

Housing Vacancy Rate: Palm Beach 8.2%  U.S. 8.3%

Adults Not Working: Palm Beach County 26.9% U.S. 28.2%

Poverty Rate: Palm Beach County 14.5%  U.S. 15.5%

Distress Score: 14.3

Distress Rank: 446

Overall, Palm Beach County is rated “comfortable” with indicators meeting or exceeding other counties and the national average. I also looked at three zip codes in Delray Beach and found interesting stats.

In 33445, which includes a lot of Delray Beach west of 95 and 30,460 people, the distressed rating was 30.2, more than double the rate for Palm Beach County. In my zip code, 33444, home to 22,440, the distress rank was a dismal 59.5. The downtown/beach area zip code, 33483 had a distress rating of 21.6 and consists of 11,850 people.

Distress was measured using 7 metrics.

  1. No high school diploma: Percent of the population 25 years and older without a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Housing vacancy rate: Percent of habitable housing that is unoccupied, excluding properties that are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use
  3. Adults not working: Percent of the prime-age population (ages 25-64) not currently in work
  4. Poverty rate: Percent of the population living under the poverty line
  5. Median income ratio: A geography’s median income expressed as a percentage of its state’s median income
  6. Change in employment: Percent change in the number of jobs from 2011 to 2015
  7. Change in business establishments: Percent change in the number of business establishments from 2011 to 2015.

This blog has long championed the importance of economic development and the need to strengthen and diversify our economy.

The stakes are high.

The report also indicated that less distressed communities are healthier communities. The healthier the economy, the healthier the person: People in distressed communities die five years earlier, according to the research.

If we care about our long term financial sustainability and the prospects for our children, we need to figure out a plan to be competitive with other healthy regions.

It’s not about chasing Amazon (good luck with that one) or waving incentives at companies—it’s about leveraging our strengths, improving our schools, nurturing entrepreneurs (economic gardening) working with universities, increasing quality housing that is affordable and building an inclusive community open to ideas, innovation and creativity.

 

 

 

Wanted: Civic Giants With Heart & Vision

Terry Stiles

Terry Stiles died Sept 11.
He was 70 and was a civic giant.
He was also a developer.
His success as a builder enabled him to give back to his beloved Fort Lauderdale.
We need more of his kind.
More people willing to step up and give. More people willing to step up and make it happen.

Mr. Stiles was one of the people credited with transforming Fort Lauderdale from a small beach town into a thriving city.
Some people like what’s happened. I’m sure some long for the  good old days.

But regardless of what side of that divide you fall on, there’s no denying the impact Stiles Corporation has had on Fort Lauderdale. But it wasn’t just the skyline that was impacted, it was the entire business community, the arts scene, health care, education and economic development that was forever changed via one man’s involvement, passion and commitment.

I met Mr. Stiles a few times over the years. I know people who worked for him and we have a few friends in common who knew him far better than I did. But I’m impressed and awed by these civic giants–these local icons who make a dent in their corners of the universe.

Compared to Fort Lauderdale, Delray is a small city. We have had our share of civic icons. And several have been generous.
But we need more.

Boca Raton has been blessed with some incredible philanthropy. Christine Lynn, the Schmidt Family Foundation, Dick Siemens, the Snyder’s, the Drummond’s et al.
They’ve made a profound and lasting difference.

But right about now, Delray can use a few folks to step up and make some things happen.

Old School Square can be a national cultural treasure, the Arts Garage needs angels, the Library, Historical Society, Spady Museum, Achievement Center, Caring Kitchen, Milagro Center, Miracle League, Sandoway House, Impact 100 all need financial support and commitment.

The list of worthy non profits and causes goes on and on. All of them need people willing to say: We need to solve this problem, we need to seize this opportunity or we need to rescue kids, animals, families etc. The city itself is a cause: we need people to step up and devote themselves to making a difference in Delray.
You get the picture.
And it’s not just charity.
Civic leadership also means people willing to commit to designing great parks, improving local schools, building affordable housing, creating jobs and opportunities for all, solving the scourge of substance use disorder, giving entrepreneurs a chance to succeed and artists a place to create etc.
We need civic giants.

Those people who move the needle are those who think long term and have ambition not for just themselves but for others.

We have enough naysayers. We have enough complainers. We have enough armchair quarterbacks playing gotcha, spouting off on social media, second guessing decisions and casting blame.
We need more leaders, angels, healers, supporters, investors, mentors and visionaries.

Yes, it matters who sits on the City Commission. Good mayor’s move the needle, they sell their city. They build civic pride. They evangelize and they nurture and support and still find a way to hold people to account without destroying their spirit.

They build, they fix. They don’t tear down.
And they inspire. They make you want to get involved. They make you want to be a citizen.
But…
We need more.
We can’t rely on five people serving for three years at a time.
We need long term players. People who are committed to creating something positive and important.

Such as:
Reinvent Congress Avenue.
Make Delray a cultural capital.
Create a sports and food Mecca.
Make our schools great, not good, but freaking great.
Vastly improve race relations so we are viewed as a beacon for the rest of America.
Break the cycle of poverty in this town. Learn from other cities but blaze our own  trail of greatness.

We need serious people.
Adults.
We need civic giants, people who  change the game.

Those Great Good Places

She’s a beauty, a great good, place.

I moved to Florida 30 years ago this summer.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Back then, there weren’t too many places to dine in Delray.

Nope, we weren’t a foodie destination unless of course you thought Burger Chin or Jawoppy at the old Delray Mall were fine dining. (Confession: I did).
We did have the Arcade Tap Room, the Annex, Las Hadas and of course Boston’s on the Beach but we were far from a happening spot.

I spent a lot of time in those days at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca, Dirty Moe’s, Rosie’s Raw Bar and the wonderful Ken and Hazel’s.
We shot pool at the Phoenix on A1A (where Burger Fi now resides) and on rare occasions visited Marie Callender’s in Boynton Beach. Morrison’s cafeteria was a  treat and we all loved a place called Coasters in Atlantic Plaza.

There was a place below Linton Towers–the name escapes me–but I remember paying big bucks to watch Mike Tyson knock out Michael Spinks in mere seconds during a pay per view fight. The people in the buffet line weren’t pleased. We blinked and we missed the fight.
Delray was sure different in those days.

I thought about these old time places when I read that 32 East may be exiting the scene after a long and glorious run so that Louie Bossi can take its place.
If it comes to pass, I will miss 32 East; one of the first truly great restaurants on Atlantic Avenue.

Owner Butch Johnson has done a great job since opening in 1996  and I will miss seeing my fellow Oswego alumni John Fitzpatrick behind the bar where he is the consummate spiritual advisor, with the emphasis on the spirits.
32 East earned its place in the firmament of great local places alongside Dakotah, Damiano’s, Bennardo’s, Splendid Blendeds, Louie Louie Too, the Twilight Cafe, Gleason Street Cafe, Pineapple Grille, The Patio Delray, D & B Seafood, Busch’s, Atlantic Station, Luna’s and Vittorios. So many more I’m sure.
Thinking about them all gives me a warm and nostalgic feeling.

It’s not just the places we miss, but the people associated with them. I remember watching the All Star Game at Louie Louie’s with Diane and the late Lamar Shuler one year and taking my parents to the Gleason Street Café when they visited Delray to see the grandkids. I remember election night 1990 at the Arcade Tap Room and seeing the town’s fathers at their old table at the Green Owl.

Ray Oldenburg, a University of West Florida Professor wrote a great book some years ago called “The Great Good Place.”
The book talked about those “third” places beyond home and the office that become a part of the community fabric.
We miss them all. We cherish the memories. But inevitably we move on to discover new places too.
And so it goes.
I miss happy hours at Dirty Moe’s, I miss seeing Officer Vinny Mintus at The Annex for lunch and I wish I could have one more breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Pompey at the old IHOP on North Federal.
Memories…